Good Intentions

            There is nothing more annoying to me than poor customer service, especially when attempting to accomplish a task over the phone and there's no eye contact.  Recently I had a refreshing experience when visiting a particular retail store for the first time-EVER! I had put it off for quite some time because although I'd done my research, I was still not confident in my ability in purchasing a precise product. Thanks to the lovely employee who assisted me, the otherwise dreaded chore was a success. Once the sale was finalized after I'd expressed how much I appreciated and admired not only her professionalism, but most importantly her customer service skills by listening to my concerns, she was very enthusiastic in expressing how I made her day. The entire scenario actually went a bit deeper to the point where our conversation continued once I made it home and there may have been a few tears, but I'll spare you the details. Aside from a job offer a friendship developed as well, all due to her exercising the basic skill of listening. 
       We often forget how important it is to offer a listening ear whether in our work environments or socializing with friends and family. Even our significant others when we know they have good intentions, but listening is not a skill that everyone possesses. I willingly admit that I have been guilty of this over the years. We have good intentions as it's our nature to want to help others be it in a customer service situation or a loved one. The issue is that first of all, we can't be of assistance when we don't take time to listen in an effort of discovering the actual need. Often in our haste, we begin throwing out suggestions and advice before acquiring the necessary information. I'm certain that at some point we've all experienced both sides of this scenario.  I've been quick to offer advice when it wasn't being sought as well as receiving advice that had nothing to do with what I was saying because while the person may have been hearing my words, they weren't actually listening. It can be extremely frustrating, especially when I know that individual thinks they're helping. In recognizing that feeling, I do my best to stay mindful of how vital it can be to simply offer a listening ear.
       Obviously, there are various reasons we can be so quick to give advice. Some believe they are what I like to call "fixers", thinking they have all the answers to fix the problems at hand. The reality is no one can nor is the other party (in most cases) expecting us to solve their problems. Then there are those who for their own reasons feel it gives them purpose, those who yearn to feel needed. Unfortunately, the downside (speaking from personal experiences) is that when people feel they are not being heard it can cause them to shut down and become withdrawn. They begin to hold things in which as we know can be unhealthy. We all want/need to be heard to an extent. Every V.O.I.C.E. matters, which is the beauty of it. When we truly listen and engage by not necessarily offering our opinions or advice, but by asking questions and being present in the conversation, we provide encouragement and hope in the form of empathy. Along with that provides a sense of comfort by establishing trust, because regardless of who's doing the listening or the talking, we have now become equals. Neither person is greater or less than the other because we've established what I refer to as a safe zone. When we listen it's also an opportunity to learn and grasp insight for ourselves. That's not to say the two parties need to agree, but by listening we can discover a person's train of thought, perhaps a broader perspective on the matter or simply acquiring a better understanding of the relative/friend we care about. 
      Through all my social engagements with employees, co-workers, my children as well as friends regardless of which side I'm on (listening or talking), I've learned that the biggest gift of having a listening ear can also have a huge positive affect. During these chaotic times when many are facing mental health challenges, suicides deaths are increasing and those who are depressed due to current circumstances, let's keep in mind that although we have good intentions, now more than ever we can make a difference. We never know how close to the edge someone may be and may possibly even save a life when we offer a listening ear to our loved ones and those who may not have options for other outlets.   

Spotting God

A pirouette is a graceful spin that’s executed by ballerinas and contemporary dancers alike. As a child, I loved to do pirouettes in my modern dance class, whirling round and round until I was dizzy in the head and fell to the ground. As I got older, a trick I learned to help me maintain my balance and control was “spotting”—identifying a single point for my eyes to return to each time I made a full circle spin. Having a single focal point was all I needed to master my pirouette with a graceful finish.

We all face many twists and turns in life. When we focus on our problems, however, the things we encounter seem unmanageable, leaving us dizzy and heading toward a disastrous fall. The Bible reminds us that if we keep our minds steadfast, or focused, on God, He’ll keep us in “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). Perfect peace means that no matter how many turns life takes, we can remain calm, assured that God will be with us through our problems and trials. He’s the “Rock eternal” (v. 4)—the ultimate “spot” to fix our eyes on—because His promises never change.

May we keep our eyes on Him as we go through each day, going to Him in prayer and studying His promises in the Scriptures. May we rely on God, our eternal Rock, to help us move gracefully through all of life.

Reflect & Pray

What problems have you been focused on lately? What has God revealed in Scripture about the trials you face?

Dear heavenly Father, forgive me for focusing on the problems I face each day. I know You’ve conquered the world and remain bigger than my trials. Help me turn my eyes and heart to You in every circumstance.

Where It All Began

Thanks to a young college student, my introduction to poetry came around the age of nine. She took the time to share and read works with not only me, but some of my neighborhood friends as well, which for me opened doors to a myriad of possibilities. I remember spending the summer encouraging them how much fun this would be. When really, I needed a reason to get out the house and not be bored. It also sparked my curiosity about this place; new to me at that time, called Africa. I was honored in being asked to provide most of the artwork for this project and although I’m not quite sure of my poetry, thankfully my artistic skills drastically improved over the years, lol. This was a vital moment for a young girl who at the time had no idea this experience would alter my life, all because one person took the time in deciding to reach out. (Note: this tiny publication has been tattered over the years as you can tell, but I hold on to it as a reminder of where it all began)!

This Bridge Called My Back

Donna Kate Rushin, better known as Kate Rushin is a lesbian poet. Her prefatory poem, “The Bridge Poem”, to the 1981 collection, “The Bridge Called My Back”, is considered iconic. I’m sharing this poem for those who may not be familiar with it because I recall a time many years ago when the lines resonated so deeply as I’m sure they will for others.


I’ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody

Nobody
Can talk to anybody
Without me Right?

I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister
My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists
The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks
To the Ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the
Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…

Then
I’ve got the explain myself
To everybody

I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N.

Forget it
I’m sick of it

I’m sick of filling in your gaps

Sick of being your insurance against
The isolation of your self-imposed limitations
Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners
Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches
Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people

Find another connection to the rest of the world
Find something else to make you legitimate
Find some other way to be political and hip

I will not be the bridge to your womanhood
Your manhood
Your human-ness

I’m sick of reminding you not to
Close off too tight for too long

I’m sick of mediating with your worst self
On behalf you your better selves

I am sick
Of having to remind you
To breathe
Before you suffocate
Your own fool self

Forget it
Stretch or drown
Evolve or die

The bridge I must be
Is the bridge to my own power
I must translate
My own fears
Mediate
My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere
But my true self
And then
I will be useful

    -from This Bridge Called My Back

Buried Treasures

My Great grandfather John Johnson (Big Momma’s husband), transitioned in 1972, the year I was born. If I could go back and have a conversation with him, I’d ask what his thoughts were as an 18-year-old black man entering the U.S. Army to fight in WW1, joining a segregated unit to go overseas when he didn’t even have full political or social rights here at home.

My children surprised me this past weekend by flooding me with video and photos from their trip visiting my mom last year. I cried when I saw the photo of my G-son who desperately wanted to see where his ancestors were buried. Being the Griot of the family, he has heard their stories all his life and has also been fortunate having a face to go with those stories thanks to the photos I’ve gathered over the years. He was particularly interested in Big Momma, who would be his Great Great Great grandmother (who’s headstone he’s standing next to). I suppose his curiosity is due to her living 100 years and with his love of history, reflecting on society along with all she witnessed and overcame during her time (like the pandemic in 1918). It occurred to me that this was nothing to be sad about. It is actually quite a blessing for us all to share in this experience. So rather than cry, I decided to celebrate the history of my ancestors with a poem.

Beneath the gravel over a century of fortunes rest, to make you proud, I'll do my best.
Your resilience proved there's strength in numbers, Johnson's working as one, embracing roars of the thunder.
From a time vows were honored, "'til death do us part", side by side headstones reflect your mark.
Descendants now reap rewards of your sacrifice; I thank you for baring seeds that gave me life.
I, a hallmark derived from karats of my ancestors-each unit designed with purity, never taking for granted the value of knowledge passed down to me.
Wars, civil rights, equality-regardless of the cause, I admire the gifts captured in the stories of your scars.
Generations of precious gems-who thrive and shine like diamonds, your legacy remains unmeasured; therefore, I shall not weep for my family of buried treasures!

The Potter’s Wheel

INSIGHT Jeremiah used the analogy of the potter and clay to illustrate God’s freedom to judge and restore His people. Even if God promised that a nation would be “built up and planted” (Jeremiah 18:9), that didn’t mean a nation should become complacent and arrogant, for God is free to respond to unrepentant sin with judgment (v. 10). At the same time, God’s judgment of Israel didn’t suggest their permanent destruction; for if Israel repented, God, like a potter reshaping clay, would freely reshape and rebuild Israel (v. 8).

The metaphor of the potter and clay also emphasizes God’s good purposes for His creation. A potter responds to defects in the clay (lack of moisture, a lump, or other issues) by further working the clay into a usable form. Likewise, God doesn’t throw away His creation but continues to work toward His good purposes.

In 1952, in an effort to prevent clumsy or careless people from breaking items in a shop, a Miami Beach storeowner posted a sign that read: “You break it, you buy it.” The catchy phrase served as a warning to shoppers. This type of sign can now be seen in many boutiques.

Ironically, a different sign might be placed in a real potter’s shop. It would say: “If you break it, we’ll make it into something better.” And that’s exactly what’s revealed in Jeremiah 18.

Jeremiah visits a potter’s house and sees the potter shaping the “marred” clay with his hands, carefully handling the material and forming “it into another pot” (v. 4). The prophet reminds us that God is indeed a skillful potter, and we are the clay. He is sovereign and can use what He creates to both destroy evil and create beauty in us.

God can shape us even when we’re marred or broken. He, the masterful potter, can and is willing to create new and precious pottery from our shattered pieces. God doesn’t look at our broken lives, mistakes, and past sins as unusable material. Instead, He picks up our pieces and reshapes them as He sees best. Even in our brokenness, we have immense value to our Master Potter. In His hands, the broken pieces of our lives can be reshaped into beautiful vessels that can be used by Him (v. 4).

Prayer: God, You’re the Potter and I’m the clay. Mold me as You wish. Remind me that I’m in Your skillful and caring hands.

Pilgrimage of Purpose

It was somewhere around the age of eight when I was sure I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I suppose that dream was motivated by the summer vacations to theme parks like Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland which was also around the same time I discovered my talents of drawing all the characters I’d encountered during those trips. I wanted to work side by side with Mr. Walt Disney himself, creating my own cartoon characters. That dream didn’t last very long. The older I became; my interest began to change. For a brief moment I considered advertising, intrigued by designing logos and campaign ads. I despised football as a child because that’s all my stepfather watched and even when he’d doze off on the couch, we knew not to try changing the channel because he was still “listening” to the game as he would say. However, I was fascinated by the commercials during the games and how catchy the slogans were. The problem was, just like the cartoons, I could draw the characters as well as the logos, but could never seem to come up with a catchy phrase of my own or humorous skit. Upon reaching my pre-teen years I became fascinated by the idea of becoming a courtroom sketch artist. My true motivation was simply a way into the courtroom out of curiosity regarding certain trials along with all the details. Now, by my sophomore year, thanks to an amazing art teacher, once again I was certain after winning my first T-square Tammy was going to become an architect! Yeah ok, that was until I found out the level of math required for this particular field.

Unfortunately, within our household there was little to no encouragement nor support regarding career choices or their requirements. Certain family members constantly preached about how important education is, but I was unaware not only of college opportunities in general but more specifically Historical Black Universities until visiting the campus of one down south well into my adulthood. I was in awe of the culture as a whole and confused as to why I had been so uninformed. Not to pass blame on my family or anyone else, I’d say it basically came down to me being stuck in survival mode after becoming a teenage mother. My career path began as a scared teen. The nurse who assisted me during my delivery had such a negative bed-side manner that I thought to myself, I can do this job. I wanted to provide comfort and support to other young expecting moms; however, my first job as a medical assistant led to working in urology instead. After a few years in various areas of the field, I decided this wasn’t the career for me. It was yet another example of how I let fear dictate my decisions. I loved the work and wasn’t bothered by the atmosphere at all, but aside from the AIDS virus just arriving on the scene with little information, the politics of how business was conducted and me constantly bearing witness to people who desperately needed care yet were being turned away. At that time, I was unaware of what to do or if there was anything I could do to change what I was seeing.

As much as I’ve always loved working, I never cared much for office jobs although the call centers helped me to develop tough skin. Most “desk” jobs in my experience were a repeat of that same boring tasks day after day. It was the labor jobs I enjoyed most like working the saw at the lumber mill and grading wood. Staying on my feet, constantly moving so the wood didn’t pile up made the time go by faster which meant getting back home to my children for the day. Be it teaching art, K-3 HOSO science, housekeeping at the Day’s Inn or standing on my feet for hours in a huge freezer packing chicken for Tyson, at each job I obtained vital skills to aid in the next phase of my journey. Wherever there was an opportunity for advancement, I did and those leadership skills helped prepare me for my purpose. Once when I was managing a Taco Bell a young girl accused me of thinking that I’m always right. The other employees were sure I’d snap back at her, instead I laughed because she was right. I think of her often wondering if she realized the gift in the lesson, she taught me that day. I was fourteen years old when I began working, remaining consistent with employment until 2016 when the seizures became more frequent and finding myself with a second felony conviction. After being denied several times for SSI benefits, even though I’d earned more than enough credits years prior, it was time to start thinking outside the box. Afterall, I am a creator one of my professors would tell me. So, I began creating opportunities for myself by utilizing the skills I’d obtained through out my journey along with all my accomplishments. Including those skills that we don’t get paid for and often go unnoticed like raising children and managing a household.

Now turning 50 later this year, I feel so strongly that I’ve finally discovered my purpose for being here-because I truly believe WE ALL have one and it’s never too late! Looking back on the circumstances I’ve witnessed, experienced and overcome, I can’t help but to acknowledge that I survived for a specific purpose. With all those situations along with people, good and not so much that have crossed my path, there was always a lesson to be learned in each scenario. I view those lessons as power which is why I can’t define myself as being a victim. All the years when I thought God had left me behind and forgotten about me, He was actually preparing me. I am convinced that my purpose is to support, inspire and offer hope to others through my lived experience by providing a platform where we can “Voice Our Individual Cultural Experiences” while combating stigma and gaining courage!

Power to Choose

Featured above are photos from my first book signing and reading (taken by my then 6yr old G-son). The very first photo is extremely special to me, not because of the accomplishment itself but more so the feedback I received from the audience. I hadn’t noticed until this particular photo was shared on social media where the majority of comments were regarding how intense the focus of the woman was in the picture as I responded to her questions. She asked, ” where do you get the courage to share your story” and “how did I overcome the trauma”? I had no idea those would be the most frequently asked questions from my audience all these years later. My response is, not only do I take back power growing stronger each time I speak my truth, but more importantly I “choose” to reflect on the good regardless of how far and few those moments may have been. It doesn’t benefit me physically or mentally to focus on the bad. It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten those traumatic life events, only that I decided such events are not how I want to use my energy. Some have said to me, “I don’t have any good times” and my response is that I can understand because I felt the same way until I “choose” a different perspective. It all depends on how I view my situation. “Good times” has been as basic as a home cooked meal after a hospital stay or being released from jail. When I think about those moments, I’m able to still savor the flavors by being reminded my last meal could’ve been worse. I’m convinced that by me choosing to reflect on even the smallest occurrences in my life where the good out-weigh’s the bad!

To share an example of the power in choosing to recognize the good outweighing the bad during my childhood were days when my mother wasn’t battling with her depression. Not being subjected to the abuse and walking around the house on eggshells was one thing, but her being in good spirits and actually wanting to interact with the family are moments I treasure. These were the days when momma would pull out the board games and as I recall, we had all of them and she equally enjoyed each one. Sometimes she’d ask me to pick out one for she and I to play one on one. One of my favorites was Chinese checkers, for some reason I was fascinated with the marbles. Other times she’d plead with me to play Yahtzee. Then there were occasions the entire family would get involved deciding between Uno, Clue, or my all-time least favorite Monopoly. First of all, it takes entirely too long to finish, but momma was always determined. She’d say, “once you start something, ya gotta finish it”. That may apply to most things, but not Monopoly. My younger brothers and I would often fall asleep during the game and my stepdad would get bored after a few hours. Momma on the other hand, took the game so seriously. She loved being the “banker”, probably due to working as a teller previously. Even back then, the thought of going to jail freaked me out so I’d eagerly hope to pull the “get out of jail free card”. I could never seem to collect an entire group of properties to purchase hotels and would lose all my money by landing on the most expensive property, causing me to pay out. It was okay though because my fun came from watching my mother smiling and enjoying herself. Even through dreading the next day when we’d wake up to find the game neatly intact with our money and properties secured underneath the board sometimes with a thin tablecloth covering it because momma was afraid a breeze would disturb her hours of accomplishments. Plus, she intended for us to pick up where we left off.

As a child my mother NEVER celebrated my birthdays, gave me a hug or comfort. I desperately craved those three vital words children expect to hear from their mother’s, “I love you”, yet I didn’t. After spending the majority of my life thinking my mother hated me, it was easy to forgive her once I learned what Mental health is and how to recognize the patterns and behaviors in my mother. I’ve always known that she’s not a bad person so when people ask how or why I’m able to share, the answer eventually became very simple for me. I “choose” to reflect and hold on to the good days spent with my mother. For many years that was all I had. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t get from her, I’d rather stay mindful of the gifts she was able to give me. The life lessons I learned from our game nights that have carried me through rough patches in life. Balancing a check book along with the importance of excellent credit as well as how rewarding it can be in simply keeping your word and being honest. These are the gifts I received by watching her through struggle and overcoming obstacles. I’m fortunate to still have my mother and when she’s gone, I “choose” to remember her in good times as my momma instead of her as a person struggling with illness. Call me selfish but there’s too much anger and negativity in the world as it is, I simply prefer in any situation big or small to take notice in how the good out-weigh’s the bad!

Dealing With Disagreement

Daily Devotional (Jan. 6th, 2022)

The social media powerhouse Twitter created a platform where people all over the world express opinions in short sound bites. In recent years, however, this formula has become more complex as individuals have begun to leverage Twitter as a tool to reprimand others for attitudes and lifestyles they disagree with. Log on to the platform on any given day, and you’ll find the name of at least one person “trending.” Click on that name, and you’ll find millions of people expressing opinions about whatever controversy has emerged.

We’ve learned to publicly criticize everything from the beliefs people hold to the clothes they wear. The reality, however, is that a critical and unloving attitude doesn’t align with who God has called us to be as believers in Jesus. While there will be times when we have to deal with disagreement, the Bible reminds us that as believers we’re to always conduct ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Instead of being harshly critical, even of our enemies, God urges us to “bear with each other and forgive one another if [we have] a grievance” (v. 13).

This treatment isn’t limited to the people whose lifestyles and beliefs we agree with. Even when it’s difficult, may we extend grace and love to everyone we encounter as Christ guides us, recognizing that we’ve been redeemed by His love.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I know I fall short of Your glory every day. Thank you for Your unconditional love. Help me strive to be more like You by being patient and gentle with others.

I originally had planned on a different post and yet this is the third week I’ve put it off because I haven’t been able to structure the writing correctly. It feels as if I’m either rambling or missing the key points that I want to convey. So, I decided to share this. I love “Our daily Bread” because of its simplicity in the way it breaks down the message, making it easier for me to grasp the knowledge. Although I start my days by reading the entries; as I have for probably more than fifteen or so years every once in a while, a passage will speak to me so loudly that I can’t ignore it. There I times when it may relate directly to me or to someone else I care about and feel obligated to share. God Bless!!